One of the great twists of our sinful, fallen hearts is the capacity that all of us have towards self-deception and rationalization when it comes to the sins that so easily embed themselves deeply in the hidden chambers of the human heart. For many of us, we have a keen eye when it comes to finding faults in others, while at the same time, we can easily dismiss those ways in which we fall short of the glory of God. This is the issue at the heart of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3-5, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Many Christians have simply adopted the mentality that fighting sin is simply a matter of avoiding “the big ones” that make everyone’s list of no-no’s while treating other sins that may not make everyone’s “Top 5” as just the accepted way things are. In the process, we develop “coping mechanisms” that allow us to walk around as “eye inspectors” while at the same time bumping into people with our own log. We may try to cover our sin with righteous behavior. We become Pharisees that are adept at keeping the big requirements of the law while ignoring things like justice, mercy, and grace. Or, we may try to “reclassify” sin. We engage in this whenever we take something like impatience or a loose tongue and say, “Well, I wouldn’t classify that as a ‘sin’.” Meanwhile, we forget that God never gave you and me the job of classifying anything as sin. He’s already done that and made it clear.
One of the chief ways we try to incorrectly deal with sin is by the act of minimizing. Again, this comes when we primarily define sin as “the biggies” that we all inherently know we need to avoid. But, we even forget that the “Top Ten” list that God gave to Moses not only included prohibitions against stealing, but also against coveting our neighbor’s property. So, when we allow things like home improvement shows or our neighbors brand new sports car to create within us an unhealthy desire to want something that God has not in his sovereignty provided for us at this time, we get in trouble. When we only define idolatry and graven images as the shrines in a Buddhist temple in Tebet but don’t see the obsession with our mutual funds as a form of idolatry, we miss the whole point. When we engage in gossip in the church and reclassify it as “sharing a need” or “prayer request”, we minimize the danger it is to not only our tongue, but to our very soul. When a sports team or an organization cuts corners and engages in unethical behavior and its managers or constituents say things like, “Everyone’s doing it” or “That’s just what you have to do to stay ahead” we take what is called cheating and minimize it. When a student doesn’t see the inherent wrongness in cheating on a test or plagiarizing another’s work in his or her paper, he has minimized sin and is on dangerous ground spiritually.
The problem is that deep-down at heart, we simply find it too easy to deceive ourselves and think we’ve done a good job at deceiving others. But when we get to the point that we rationalize, minimize, or reclassify sin, we have stepped outside of the truth of the gospel and we have inadvertently placed ourselves outside of the need for grace. As Paul Tripp says in his book “Dangerous Calling”:
“If you aren’t daily admitting to yourself that you are a mess and in daily and rather desperate need for forgiving and transforming grace, and if the evidence around has not caused you to abandon your confidence in your own righteousness, then you are going to give yourself to the work of convincing yourself that you are okay.” (Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry”)
So, Christian, any time you hear the words, “It’s not THAT big of a deal”, you should shudder in terror, especially if you ever hear them coming from your own lips. Whenever you are tempted to minimize your impatience, your arrogance, your discontentment, or your lack of self-control, take a moment and ask the Holy Spirit to do a surgical work in your heart and propel you to the cross of Jesus where those sins have been crucified. Don’t allow refined, or what Jerry Bridges calls “respectable sins”, to set up a home in your heart. And, don’t allow yourself to become comfortable pointing out the specks in others eyes until you have submitted to the Holy Spirit and asked him to do some spiritual ophthalmology on your own.